Director: Karen Maine
Stars: Natalia Dyer, Susan Blackwell, Francesca Reale
You either blanked at the above or it threw you back to a very specific era of dial-up, MSN and Snake 2. Before social media, before memes… If we’re now in the internet’s melodramatic adolescence, Karen Maine’s new comedy Yes, God, Yes is set in the days of it’s relatively innocuous infancy. It seems the era of ’00s nostalgia is finally upon us. Yes, God Yes covets technological time capsuling as already intimated, but it also leans hard on musical references (Blink 182, “Genie In A Bottle” era Christina) in order to evoke a particular milieu. Somehow we’ve collectively skipped ’90s retroism and gone straight for Y2K signalling. But the comparable naivety of the time period is key to the entire burgeoning, coming-of-age attitude of this piece – we’re here for a quietly sassy and delightfully empowering loss of innocence…
Alice (Natalia Dyer of Stranger Things fame) is a high school girl who has had a strictly religious upbringing. She is devoutly Catholic, confesses to her priest-cum-teacher Father Murphy (Timothy Simons), prays hard and fears God. She’s also awakening to her body and sexuality, though her peers all appear strictly chaste; more successfully repressing their inherent vices. It sets her apart as the ‘special one’; the protagonist through whom Maine enjoys reliving particular teenage milestones. It also allows Alice to become a vessel for commentary on a very particular kind of indoctrinated shame.
Cutie-pie caricatures of wide-eyed God-loving Americans feature prominently; Maine confidently hitting a target roughly the size of the broad side of a barn. But her snipes never truly read as mean-spirited or as though they’re intended to offend. These are more like knowing digs. Lived-in observations, perhaps. Often, the positive attributes of Catholicism are also exemplified, such as when Alice hurts her ankle and the handsome Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz) gallantly carries her to the nurse’s office. Or the fulcrum of truth that anchors one of the film’s nicely-judged pay-off scenes. A tearful confessional account of a car accident conjures fond memories of a specific beat from Terry Zwigoff’s small wonder Ghost World. Moreover, however, the spirit of Miranda July exists in this movie, not least because it features a couple of memorable sequences that investigate the internet’s ability to redefine our language… for the dirtier.
A strange encounter in an internet chatroom tempts Alice to the possibilities of touching herself for pleasure, but it is the aforementioned Chris – with his hairy arms and affection for her lower back – who inspires more emotionally connected feelings. That, and the discovery that her peers aren’t quite as clean-cut or saintly as she had assumed. On the one hand this helps assuage the indoctrinated guilt that Alice feels – allowing her a breakthrough – on the other it acts as a comfortably soft comment on the frequent hypocrisies of organised religion, not to mention the perils of repression. The film begins in sterile classroom environments. As things get progressively hornier, Yes, God, Yes grows earthier, dirtier, moving out into the woods and the wilds of rural biker bars inhabited by charmingly pleasant patrons (a vaguely Twin Peaks vibe). By this point, horniness threatens to ping like a microwave.
Dyer’s Alice is thoughtful, sweet and likable, something that might also be said of Maine’s film at large, an elaboration of a short she made in 2017. This is a perfectly sized little feature that packs a lot of wisdom in beside its witticisms. Sexual gratification promises relief – that much is certain – but Yes, God, Yes also finds solace in the realisation that, really, nobody knows for sure what they’re doing. We may fumble with ourselves – proudly or fitfully – but we’re all fumbling this thing called life. And if you can enjoy the cheesiness in that line, you might find a lot to love in this smart and breezy feature debut from an emerging talent worth watching out for. Maine may reference the work of others (consciously or not), but she has a voice all of her own.